BUENOS AIRES, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Argentine lawmakers on early Wednesday approved a new law which will allow companies to provide bundled telephone, Internet and cable television services, a measure supporters say will open up the market and drive prices down.
Legislators voted 131 in favour and 97 against the bill which replaces a law that dates back to 1972 and the South American country's military dictatorship.
It comes at a time Argentina is scrambling to play catch up in the telecoms an industry, a sector which has lacked investment but experienced a surge in smartphone ownership. Operators will now be able to obtain a single licence for mobile telephone services, television and Internet services.
"Telecommunications should be a human right," said the president of the communications committee, Mario Oporto, a lawmaker from the ruling coalition. "Information and communications technologies should work in the public interest."
The 1972 law prohibits operators from offering both television and telephone services.
However, critics argue the new bill, which still needs to be signed by President Cristina Fernandez to be enacted, will benefit market leaders rather than increasing competition.
Leading telecoms players in Latin America's No. 3 economy include Telecom Argentina, Telefonica Argentina, a unit of Spanish firm Telefonica and Cablevision, owned by Argentine media group Clarin.
"Instead of defending the interests of users ... this is an measure designed to secure and expand the business interests of the telecoms companies, further cementing their dominant positions," said opposition legislator Roy Cortina of the Socialist Party.
Opponents of President Cristina Fernandez's leftist government voiced concern that the new legislation might allow the industry regulator to demand private data without obtaining a legal order first.
Argentina in October launched a satellite to provide telecom services to the country's remote regions, as well as in Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. (Reporting by Richard Mangano; Editing by Richard Lough and W Simon)